"IAF's falling end strength and problematic force structure, combined with its troubled acquisition and development programs, threaten India’s air superiority over its rapidly modernizing rivals."
A US expert warns India that despite being a world-class combat arm, Indian Air Force is in crisis and resolving the airpower crisis should be a priority for New Delhi.
Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says in his report that the IAF's falling end strength and problematic force structure, combined with its troubled acquisition and development programs, threaten India’s air superiority over its rapidly modernizing rivals.
The report, titled as 'Troubles, They Come in Battalions: The Manifold Travails of the Indian Air Force' points out that Indian air dominance is vital for deterrence stability in southern Asia and for preserving the strategic balance in the wider Indo-Pacific region.
According to Tellis, the IAF’s fighter force is well short of its sanctioned strength, and many of its frontline aircraft are obsolete. His report says China and Pakistan field about 750 advanced air defense/multirole fighters against the IAF’s 450-odd equivalents. “After 2025, China could be able to deploy anywhere between 300 and 400 sophisticated aircraft against India, in addition to the 100 to 200 advanced fighters likely to exist in Pakistan by then,” says the report.
It says that the IAF’s likelihood of reaching its 2027 goal (42–45 squadrons) with a high proportion of advanced fighters is poor.
“All three tiers of the IAF are currently in trouble. The Tejas Mark 1 is handicapped by significant technological deficiencies; the prospects for expanding the MMRCA component to compensate for the Tejas’s shortcomings are unclear; and the IAF’s reluctance to proceed fully with the PAK-FA program could undermine its fifth-generation fighter ambitions,” according to the report.
The report recommends that the IAF revisit some aspects of its current approach. "It should be cautious about expanding the Tejas acquisition beyond six squadrons and consider enlarging the MMRCA component with the cheapest fourth-generation-plus Western fighter available."
Tellis also asks India to reassess the decision to develop the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft indigenously and avoid weakening the collaboration with Russia on the PAK-FA program.
India should expand its investments in advanced munitions, combat support aircraft, electronic warfare, physical infrastructure, and pilot proficiency—all current strengths—while being realistic about its domestic capacity to produce sophisticated combat aircraft," Tellis says in his report.